Happy Brian! (Turning three.)

Hey, dude.

You’re three today! Happy Brian! I love you to teeny, tiny, smoochable pieces. From your big brown eyes to your kiss-me cheeks to your sweet grin and your crazy toddler run, you bring me so much joy. I looked over your first and second birthday notes today, just to remind myself where you were a year and two ago.

I can’t believe how much you’ve grown. Last year, your sentences were more like a series of one-word statements strung together. (Sometimes, they were a series of questions, like an itty-bitty valley girl.) You called your sisters “Day day, Win woh, and Lay Mae.”

You still have this funny robot inflection I struggle to replicate in writing. Your voice is low for a little guy and your sentences mostly end with a low tone that denotes… authority? Certainty? Resignation? I’m not sure. But you are in a phase where you narrate everything, always drawing out the last (low pitched) word. “Daddy go to woooork.” “It’s time for naaaap.” “I eated luuuuuunch.” You are polite, almost without exception (in your words, anyway)… so many “pleases” and “thank yous” make my heart smile. You know and use the word “blame,” but you have it wrong in the most adorable way. If, for instance, Lilly kisses you and it’s a little wet, you say, “Lilly ated meeeee.” And I say, “Well, yeah. Can you blame her? You’re delicious!” You reply, “I caaaaan!” And then you gently thrum your chubby toddler fingers on your sister and sing in an abnormally high-pitched voice, “Blame!” Because that’s how you blame your sister. I don’t even know. It makes me laugh every time.

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I love that you’re still lovey. You give kisses and hugs and snuggles. When you get hurt or in trouble, you say (with the saddest eyes), “I need some loves,” and climb up for mama cuddles. Neither of the big girls have been cuddlers, and it’s fun to have my sweet boy who just likes to be held. I like how you love your sisters, too. You give the big ones kisses as often as they’ll let you and you take such kind care of the baby. I love how you sing to her when she’s sad. Actually, I love how you sing in general. You have a handful of hymns on rotation and a handful of other kid songs for variety, and I love them all.

You love to accessorize. Shoes. Sunglasses. Bags. Mardi Gras beads. Whatever, really.

You’ve finally hit the “NO!” phase. I suspected you weren’t going to remain totally compliant—you don’t have the genetic material for that business. But up until the last few months, you’ve been awfully easy to parent. Now, we see the standard displays of toddler power and rage that everyone kind of expects.

You know what, Bud? It’s fine. As I told your big sister back when she turned three, I love you plenty to help you figure out how to behave. I don’t mind that you have your own (very strong) opinions… that’s fine. But also, we’re going to temper that with a little bit of your parents’ wisdom until you get some of your own. Yes, it’s harder to parent you now than it was a year ago, but I don’t love you any less. Also, you’re even more fun than you were then, so it all kind of balances out.

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photo credit: Sarah Lewis Photography

The last few months, when I pray for you as you go down for bed, I always pray (among all the other things) “Jesus, please help him learn to obey.” At this point, you frequently interrupt me: “NO! Don’t ask Jesus to OBEY! I not WANT to obey!” I usually shrug at this and say, “I know you don’t, Buddy. That’s because you’re a sinner. We all are.” And then, your parting shot: “I NOT a SINNER! I’m BRIAN.” I carry on with the prayers, chuckling a little inside.

But a few weeks ago, you switched it up. After I prayed, you asked to pray, too. “Because Jesus WANTS me!” Yes, son. Jesus DOES want you. Go ahead. And you began… “Dear Jesus… [several seconds of nervous giggling]… fank you for…  [giggles]… obey… [more giggles]…” and so on for several minutes until you’d worn your giggly, delightful heart out and said, “Can I just pray to Daddy?” No, sweets. That’s not how praying works. But you can talk to Jesus like you talk to Daddy. That would be fine. So you do. The last little while, you’ve gotten more comfortable with it. There’s still a little nervous laughter (fine by me!) but it’s mostly just the heart of a nearly-three-year-old talking to Jesus as best he knows how.

I love you, Brian Boy. You’re delightful and growing up exactly right.

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words failing… again.

Hey, y’all! Happy end of October! I’ve totally loved/been eaten alive by this month’s blogging challenge.

I had some plans today to write a piece on body image, because I have some things going on in my head about it, and pretty much any time I write anything on body image, it blows up because WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT IT.

But then my family got some tremendously sad news last night and I kind of lost my words again.

My father-in-law and his wife were on the way to pick up their 11-year-old daughter, and they got t-boned, and now he’s gone. She was injured as well, and initially, nobody knew how badly. (It sounds like she will be okay, physically.)

Last night when I told the kids, Katherine said (with classic Katherine attitude), “I’m jealous of Grandpa Jim. He gets to be all happy in heaven with JESUS.” I laughed and agreed, but explained, “We’re not sad for Grandpa Jim. We’re sad for the people he left behind. Like Nanny Edith and Amanda. And us.”

The grief hasn’t hit yet. They live a couple thousand miles away, so it feels remote and unreal right now. My current reactions are divided between a sudden realization of the brevity of life and a lot of logistical questions that feel really crass to ask right now, and can’t be answered yet anyway. I certainly can’t find any meaningful words. I’m tempted to eulogize him on my blog, but that seems kind of cheap.

Anyway, I’ll totally write the other piece… eventually. But not today. Today, I will just sit and count it a win that I finished school with the kids, and I will pray for Grandpa Jim’s wife and daughter and family as we wait for answers to all of my (truly inconsequential) questions. It feels like a flat and sad ending to a month filled with a lot of work, but I can’t just leave day 31 blank. (I mean, I could, and it wouldn’t be a big deal. But I won’t, because I double-dog-dared myself to finish it a month ago.)

So… that’s not a real blog post. Thanks for reading it anyway. Please pray for Edith’s continued recovery and her and Amanda’s grief, along with that of the rest of the people around him—us included.


This post is part of a 31-day series called “Grace in Failure.” Other posts from the series can be found here.

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swimming in lane six

When I was a senior in high school, I joined swim team.

It was a weird thing to do. I’d never swum (swam? swimmed? Google says swum…) competitively before… I’d never even done laps. I was out of shape and years behind most of the kids on the team, many of whom had been swimming on teams since they could read. I didn’t have the lithe swimmer’s physique that they all had.

But I had the other seniors in Lane Six. There were three of us. As far as I know, we were all trying swim team for our first time. We all lacked the training and skill and talent of the rest of the team. The coaches stuck us in the last lane: lane six. While the rest of the fast swimmers were doing their workouts, we got the modified version. The coaches tried to teach us better form and complicated things like flip turns and the butterfly stroke. (I managed flip turns, if ungracefully. I tried fly. Really hard. But it was atrocious.) We had to compete, so we did freestyle sprints, because it posed the lowest risk of drowning. I’m pretty sure we each lost every heat.

As I write it, the story sounds cringeworthy and utterly painful. But senior year swim team is actually one of my most cherished memories of high school. My friends and I struggled and choked our way through the workouts, but we were doing it together. It taught me that failure isn’t so big a deal. As long as I’m getting air, it’s good enough. Doing my best really does matter, even if my best is worse than everyone else’s by a long way. We laughed at each other and ourselves. We got strong. We got tired. We got really, really sore.

I learned that there isn’t always a reason to compare myself to people in other lanes. They’re faster. They’re slimmer. They’re more graceful, every one of them. It’s fine.

Sometimes all that matters is that I’m with a couple lane buddies and we’re having fun together, doing our best, and trying hard not to drown.


This post is part of a 31-day series called “Grace in Failure.” Other posts from the series can be found here.

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dinner of champions

I hate post-holiday candy in the house.

Usually, I’m all responsible and stuff. I let them have a few pieces when they get home, then another one now and again as treats (bribes) over the next few weeks until it’s gone. But it makes me crazy. (And you know what I think about things that make me crazy.)

It’s not just because I’m bad at self-control and will mindlessly eat gross candy throughout the day until my body feels weird (though I will).

It’s the whining.

“Mom, can we have a piece of candy?” Times three, every few minutes. After a while I do one of two things… I either chuck (eat) the candy on the sly or I start saying “yes” every time so it can just GO AWAY.

This year, I decided to change it up. We went to a trick-or-treaty event in town this afternoon with some friends and the three big kids came home with a bag each of candy. (NO REESE’S. NOT ONE. NO PEANUT BUTTER OF ANY KIND. What the actual crap?!? Oh, right. Allergens. Well, that’s good. But also, WHAT IS THE POINT WITHOUT REESE’S???)

Go ahead and eat it, darlings. Eat as much as you’d like. (We nixed it in the car for obvious reasons, but otherwise, it was fair game.) We got home and while I fixed dinner, the kids settled at the table with their loot bags and ate… and ate… and ate.

One kid ate most of her dinner, because Saturday is Dessert Night at our house and she wanted more candy. (???) One kid ate a few bites of his. And one ate zero bites and went to bed with a stomach full of only Skittles and Nerds.

Whatever. I’m over it.

Bottom line? The kids each ate like three quarters of their available candy. They can polish the rest off for breakfast. I don’t even care. Then it’s back to eating normal food and I don’t have to hear anybody asking for candy until the next sugar-centered holiday. We’ll call it a win.


(Okay, I get it. This isn’t so much a “Grace in Failure” post as it is a “questionable parenting decisions that the children survive” kind of post. It’s fine.)


This post is part of a 31-day series called “Grace in Failure.” Other posts from the series can be found here.

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the God who is *with*

I wrote this in January as a guest post in a series that got discontinued before I was scheduled. I remembered it today and feel like it fits right in.

It’s not yet Christmas, but just the same, my thoughts are on Emmanuel. This name of Jesus is possibly my favorite. While I tend to associate it with Christmas, when he first entered to be with, I’m learning the value of His with-ness all the time. “With” is such a concrete thing for a God who often feels far from concrete.

I am the oldest of five. Two of my siblings live near me in Alaska and two live elsewhere. The oldest of my little sisters lives on the other side of the world. She moved there a few years ago to follow the call of this God who is with. The trouble? We’d only become actual, soul-deep friends a handful of years before that. All through our growing up years, there was competition and antagonism and finally in our twenties (a surprise gift from the Giver of all good things!) our hearts connected with a depth I never anticipated. And now she lives in a place that is 10 hours ahead of me, so very nearly literally halfway around the world. We can talk frequently because living in the future is magical. We know what is happening in each other’s lives and with each other’s kids. I see pictures of her toddler that has springy curls nearly identical to the ones my oldest sported at that age. I see the baby who is just a couple months ahead of my youngest. It’s almost the same as if she were here.

But I miss her company. She is not with.

There’s no hanging out on my futon, drinking tea while discussing everything and nothing, interrupted more than once every sixty seconds by our collective six children. No impromptu playdates at a park or McDonalds. We talk. I know a lot of small details of her life and she knows a lot of small details of mine. We understand each other. But we don’t have the chance right now to do life together.


Emmanuel. With us. In the day-to-day, mundane, boring details. He sees. He is with, and not bound by distance or time zones.


Life as a stay-at-home mama to four (Kindergarten and down) is often a solitary and unwitnessed experience. I make a million small decisions, mediate a million small (or large) disagreements, answer a million questions, all before lunch. Most of the work I do is invisible. Laundry gets folded, then dirty again. Dishes are used as soon as they’re clean. Toddlers need the same limits enforced over… and over… and over again. And between all of these things, the baby needs fed. Basically nothing I do stays done for very long. It’s a good life. It’s the one I dreamed of more than twenty years ago, when I was barely older than my biggest is now. But still, lonely and unseen sometimes.

Except it isn’t. Through all of that, there is One who is with. Emmanuel. He sees.

Two weeks ago, my right (dominant) hand was in a partial cast for a week following a minor surgery. One morning that week, my toddler boy woke up with something… not right with his gut. Not to be too graphic, but I threw those footie pajamas away.

There is poop seriously everywhere and I need to figure out what to do. I look around for an adultier adult, but there is only me. Me, on not nearly enough sleep, with a screaming six-month-old and my dominant hand in a non-removable absorbent cast. Fan-freaking-tastic. In the bathroom with my right arm in the air and my left hand trying to clean up the unbelievable mess, with my six-year-old helpfully trying to keep my six-month-old happy and my four-year-old less helpfully stealing my phone and ferreting it away under her bed, with my little boy crying because he has poop all over him and doesn’t really like the handheld shower head (sorry, kiddo!) I’m at a complete loss and feeling very much alone.

I was not alone.

I remembered in that chaos. Rather, He tapped my shoulder to remind me he was with. Emmanuel.

I cried out to Him. I left the bathroom for a second with all the noise and my arm still over my head and hollered, “Jesus! I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO DO HERE!”

He was there. More than that, he had an answer. Not an all-encompassing Big Answer like He sometimes gives. Nobody walked through my door with hands to help and I didn’t have a game plan for handling this crazy, but I suddenly knew the next thing to do, so I did it. And then I went back out into the living room and hollered again. (I realize Emmanuel is with, even—sometimes especially—in the bathroom, but my poor boy was already freaking out and I didn’t want to alarm him further.)

“OKAY, JESUS! NOW WHAT?!?”

And on we went. One step at a time, with noise and mess and absolute entropy, I lived that one crazy morning out with the One who is with.

And it was fine. Eventually everything (including that cast I needed to wear for another several days) was clean. The children were fed. Laundry was begun and books were read. What I most needed that morning was Someone with me, both guiding and bearing witness to it all. I needed company, not in an abstract “exchange details of the day from a distance” way like I do with my sister, but in a “hang out in the mess” kind of way. I needed Emmanuel. And the same Emmanuel who came through all the mess of birth into all the mess of our world did not disappoint.

He never does.

 


This post is part of a 31-day series called “Grace in Failure.” Other posts from the series can be found here.

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celebration and sadness

This weekend, I have a whole lot of friends converging in a city in North Carolina for a guided writing retreat. I decided to start writing this post right now because I’ve exhausted all the Instagram and facebook posts tagged #hopewriters and #guidedwritingretreat. I’m so, so excited for my friends. I went last year, and for so many reasons, the trip was one huge highlight after another. This year, I just couldn’t make the logistics work, mostly because of a certain small somebody who still nurses in the wee hours at 15 months.

I miss them. Yes, I’m bummed about the content I’ll be missing and the chance to plan and execute a real writing day. But “real writing days” aren’t a thing in my life right now, so I can get the highlights from friends later. What I miss is being with my people in real life. I have friends. Good ones. I talk to them a lot. But writing is kind of a quirky hobby and there just aren’t that many people I see day-to-day who understand the draw and the struggles of sharing your soul to bring light and hope to those few readers who need it.

I had a post in my head already written. “Failing at FOMO.” I was going to talk about combating the Fear Of Missing Out with celebration. And that’s a legit thing to do. Celebrating with friends really does combat jealousy, and I figured it should probably do the same for FOMO.

What I’m learning instead, as I attempt it for real, is, first of all, I’m not experiencing FOMO. There’s no fear here, just an ache at missing connection with some friends. Secondly, celebration doesn’t actually cancel out the sadness that I’m missing my people. They coexist. This shouldn’t be a surprise. I feel like by now I should be pretty good with holding contradictory emotions, but somehow I didn’t see it coming. I really thought I was going to be able to beat it and be able to experience only the joy. I’M SO HAPPY FOR YOU GUYS! YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE A GREAT TIME! TAKE NOTES AND TELL ME ABOUT IT LATER! I’M WATCHING FOR PICTURES!!!

All of that’s there, but the ache remains.

And that’s okay. Just like I was so thankful at the beginning of the month for a friendship worth missing when Kat moved away, I’m grateful for these relationships that are good and real and worth showing up for.


So, to my lovely friends in Charlotte right now… God bless you. I pray this time fills your souls. I’m so very excited for you and I’m cheering for you and can’t wait to hear all about it. Hug each others’ necks for me, okay?

And I miss you. I wish I could be there.


This post is part of a 31-day series called “Grace in Failure.” Other posts from the series can be found here.

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failure to focus

Today started with a weird dump of stress hormones. There was a server that blew up and required my husband’s attention before he could watch three of the kids while I took Katherine to her eye appointment. The calendar note wasn’t clear, so he didn’t make it home in time for me to get her there when I wanted to, plus I forgot her glasses. Not a big deal, but I’m learning these things sometimes have fallout beyond the moment. We got through the appointment, but the edginess stayed.

Today, it leaves me with a sort of tired-but-wired mind and body. I need a rest, I need a run, and I need to get some to-do items checked off. I have plenty to do, but I can’t seem to focus and pick the next one. Sometimes this happens.

And, because it’s my Writing Month, I’ll share my recovery plan in faith that somebody can use it.

Awareness

Noticing is always the first step. I haven’t had this particular brand of stress in a while, so I saw it quickly and named it shortly thereafter.

Reaching out

I texted a friend. Told her my body was still flipping out and I was having a hard time recovering from the morning. She was busy and didn’t get my message until a few minutes ago, but that’s not especially important—I needed to tell somebody who would (eventually) ask the question, “What’s one thing you can do take it down one click?” She and I ask this of each other on the regular, so just giving her the information reminded me to answer that question.

Taking it down one click

Today, by the time I’d settled all the people enough to answer it, it was 2:30 and I hadn’t eaten lunch. That was my one thing. This usually is a physical self-care thing. I can take my stress down by reducing internal irritations like hunger or thirst or a full bladder. Bonus: I have a fair bit of control over those things!

Making a plan

Once I’d eaten some leftovers, I was in a space to take stock of what needed to be done. I needed some internal quiet and some external peace. The internal quiet takes a little doing: screen time for the girls, and a podcast for me. Not just any podcast, but Emily Freeman’s Next Right Thing podcast, which always points me toward peace, and the Prince of it. I folded laundry. I tidied. I hopped on the treadmill.

And that brings us here.

I’m still walking. My house is far from immaculate, but it’s no longer overwhelming. Between the quiet, the tidy, and the exercise, the stress hormones have receded and I feel both less tired and less wired. I feel like I can handle the evening. It’s going to be fine.


This post is part of a 31-day series called “Grace in Failure.” Other posts from the series can be found here.

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